Beta vs demo – What are BWEs really?

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A little more than a month ago much of us in the Guild Wars 2 community finally got our first hands-on experience with the game. Guild Wars 2 had been demoed several times in past gaming conventions and fan/press days, but Beta Weekend Event 1 still the first chance for most of us. However, there seems to be a lot of disagreement on whether we really played a “beta” or just another “demo.”

Despite the fact that ArenaNet called it a Beta Weekend Event, part of the community believes it was only a marketing demo because many betas for other games in recent history have stretched the definition of “beta” to that end. On the other hand, Guild Wars 2’s beta lacked optimization and suffered from more than a few bugs, so another part of the community disagrees that the game was up to demo standards.

I have broken the two parts of the community down into teams to better illustrate for anyone who has not seen or participated in this debate. These are very generalized and do not reflect any one individual on either side.

Team BETA

These people clearly see the bugs and realize that the game needs testing. They realize that they have the opportunity to help ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2 succeed.

Pros:

  • They see the game’s potential for improvement.
  • They are less likely to run away screaming “gw2 sux!” at the first sight of a bug.

Cons:

  • Can get a little naggy, “Now Jimmy, ya better be reportin’ those bugs ‘n testing the game or yer just wastin’ server space!”
  • Generally inhospitable toward the less beta-savvy, with an attitude that could scare away pre-purchase customers.

Team DEMO

This group sees that ArenaNet is attempting to put their best foot forward and trying to blow their fans away by letting them sample an amazing game. They realize that allowing people to play the game before release is a good way to encourage sales and quench the thirst of those who have waited so long.

Pros:

  • They know that ArenaNet wants them to have fun and invite all of their non-tech-or-beta-savvy friends to come enjoy it with them.
  • They see the marketing benefits behind the betas and possibly the content chosen to be demonstrated.

Cons:

  • Less likely to recognize that bugs and features can be fixed and tweaked before release: “OMG I WASTED MONEY ON THIS GAME THAT CANT EVEN DO CHAT RIGHT!?”
  • Can get a little too deep into conspiracy theories like: “The beta is for marketing purposes ONLY and we really aren’t playing a role in testing the game at all.”

Can they be allies?

I have witnessed many nasty arguments between both sides and neither wants to concede to any of tthe other’s beliefs. It’s like the subject has to be black and white, it can be a beta or it can be a demo.

Never both.

That is the part that I, myself, don’t understand. Perhaps its the battle between old and new (old meaning of “beta” vs new), or maybe it has to do with how closely this battle is tied to release date speculations. It may also have to do with the fact that some people believe that everything about GW2 is marketing and money making, and meanwhile others believe that ArenaNet is going to hold on to the game like a mother protecting its young until its 99.999% perfect. Either way, it’s difficult getting the sides to meet in the middle, but I believe they should.

Here’s what we have seen officially said:

  • Although we publicly beta-tested the original Guild Wars® while it was still in early development, with Guild Wars 2 we will commence beta testing closer to the game’s release. Guild Wars 2 is a very large and ambitious game, and Guild Wars players rightfully have very high expectations. We want players to be absolutely blown away by the game the first time they experience it. (Source)They sacrificed the benefits of player testing earlier in development so they could better demonstrate the game later.
  • The good news is that it’s become a great equalizer. It’s no longer about who can throw the biggest marketing budget at a game. If you have a great game, people are going to tell their friends. That’s probably the most exciting thing for me. Social media is a huge factor in the marketing of online games. — We expect the public weekend beta people to be some of our strongest evangelists. (Source)From this we know at least one of the purposes of the beta is to show-off (demo) a good game so people will spread the word.
  • This was definitely a real beta, designed to find problems, gather player input, and learn what work still needs to be done before we ship the game. We’ve listened to your feedback and we’re making some important improvements to the game for the next Beta Weekend Event. (Source)

    Doesn’t get any clearer than that. There is real beta testing going on. Bugs are being squashed and improvements being made.

So I don’t see why it can’t be both. There is clearly demonstration going on, but you can’t deny that real testing is happening as well. Is it possible that the logic behind it is so simple that our very analytical community overlooked it? This beta kills two birds with one stone, as did all betas before they commonly became marketing demos. ArenaNet wanted player feedback, but they had to choose the right balance between that and the show-worthyness of the game. That is where the true question lies.

It’s not really a battle of WHAT the beta is, it’s WHEN. Start a beta too early and it loses much of it’s demo value. Start a beta too late and it’s nothing but a demo. The standard for demo value has gone up in the recent years, so even real testing betas are getting later and later.

Based on the current state and timeframe of Guild Wars 2 we can determine that it is in fact, a beta.

And also a demo.

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